Journeys and tests

I had a test on Tuesday. First one in a long time. I had been to classes, taken notes, thought about how these applied to practical situations and in different contexts, and on Tuesday I sat down to see if any of it stuck.

I’m not retaking high school nor have I enrolled in a post-graduate degree. My test was sitting down with Nick and Ed and hashing out a strategy for improving our marketing; the classes I’d attended were part of a new project by British Council Connect ZA with Business Arts South Africa (BASA – yes, the same folks who gave us a Small Business award in 2013) and the Arts Marketing Association (the AMA – a UK based network of marketers figuring out how to get artists and audiences together).

The plan (which is already well underway) is for the AMA to train up four South African arts marketers, expose them to some UK practice and thinking and then use them to spread that knowledge throughout the SA arts scene by placing them with different organisations and having them help run courses on marketing. The focus being on growing audiences for art, which leads to the program’s title: Connecting Creative Markets.

As I said, the plan is already underway. Four South Africans were selected: Ukhona Mlandu, Kim Sanssoucie and the ubiquitous Yusrah Bardien (who pops up on this blog a number of times). We arrived in London to catch an early morning train through the pastoral greenery of England to get to Cambridge, home of the AMA. Already the discussions about art, politics and audiences were flowing (Ukhona has a great gift for being intense without being tense) so by the time we sat down with Cath and Laraine we were pretty certain we knew everything. Predictably, we were wrong.

Over two days we looked at systematic approaches to marketing that were at once a revelation and yet also perfectly logical. It made me realise something about myself which I think also applies to many people working in the arts: if you know how to you can achieve your goals, but knowledge is easy to come by when Google puts everything a click away… so why don’t we use it? Why didn’t I use it to market better, connect better, etc.? Because systematic thinking isn’t just knowledge, it’s a habit, one that creates time and space to work and meet your goals. Am I actually busy working toward something, or am I busy being busy?

So sitting down with Nick and Ed was not a test of knowledge gained, it was a test of will. What’s going to take our theatre to the next level is application of the strategies and techniques that the AMA has shared, and that test of will is ongoing.

Better get back to it then.


Press release stuff:

British Council Connect ZA. This project is part of SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015 which is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council.

Founded in 1993, the AMA is a not-for-profit organisation with over1,800 members, providing a community of knowledge for arts professionals passionate about bringing arts and audiences together.

We support the professional development of AMA members through events, courses, training and resources. We run a range of practical, strategic and conceptual level events and courses each year, in locations across the UK and online. The AMA also manages, which holds over 1,000 resources on arts marketing. These resources are easily searchable and free to download. CultureHive is part of a project managed by the AMA and supported by Arts Council England. Further information on the AMA can be found at

The AMA has invited Northern Ballet to help deliver the audience development training. Northern Ballet is one of the UK’s five large ballet companies. It performs a mix of full-evening narrative ballets, shorter more contemporary ballets and ballets created especially for children. Based in Leeds in the North of England it tours extensively to theatres throughout the UK and overseas reaching audiences of in excess of 150,000 people annually and selling £2.5 million of tickets. It was three-times winner of the Audience Award at the UK National Dance Awards, voted for by the public, and has been recognised for its work in raising the profile of dance in the UK. Its communications team received the 2013 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Marketing and this year the Company was voted Europe’s Best Company at the Taglioni Ballet Awards.

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